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The Lotus
Debate Continues

from Locanananda Das

It was quite an honor and a delight to hear from my dear godbrother Umapati Swami on the subject of lotus flowers. He and I used to preach together on the streets of Paris back in 1970 when the only temple in France was in my tiny apartment. He was my spiritual mentor then and I continue to offer him all respect as a member of the sannyasa ashram. I pray that he will not take offense at the comments made in this or previous correspondence since such friendly discussion of our Krishna conscious philosophy is solely intended for the purpose of mutual enlightenment.

Upon the recommendation of Dravida Prabhu, I have researched the tradition in our line regarding the practice of showing an acharya standing on a lotus flower and I would like to report my findings. First of all, there are many instances in devotional art where the Supreme Lord and His eternal consort are depicted standing on the lotus flower to illustrate Their confidential pastimes. The four-armed form of the Lord as the Supersoul also stands on a lotus flower, as previously noted, as does Lord Caitanya's six-armed Sadbhuja form. Sometimes Lord Krishna and Lord Caitanya appear individually standing on a lotus and, finally, the members of the Panca-Tattva appear to be standing on lotuses when They are being worshiped together simultaneously. One might also consider that those who reside on the topmost planet in the spiritual world are standing on a lotus because Krishnaloka is shaped like a lotus flower, but they do so in their eternally perfected, eternally blissful siddha-deha bodies. Nowhere, however, did I find an example of a vaisnava acharya standing on a lotus flower. Neither Lord Brahma, nor Madhavendra Puri, the Six Goswamis, Bhaktivinode Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati or, in any of his vyasa puja books, Srila Prabhupada, are shown in this pose. It is quite obvious that this fanciful creation of your artist's imagination does not follow our Vaisnava tradition and is clearly a product of unbridled speculation.
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To avoid the fatal defect of mental speculation, philosophy must precede art. A work of art must therefore be based, either on a description given in the scriptures or a precedent formally approved by the spiritual master, to be considered authentic. Chakra's depiction of Srila Prabhupada standing on a lotus flower does not adhere to either of these criteria and can therefore not be considered bona fide.

It was Srila Prabhupada himself who personally established the tradition in ISKCON to not concoct via artistic expression. The training ISKCON artists received from Srila Prabhupada was that they should be atttentive to every detail of their work and not allow anything unauthorized to appear on their canvas. He would comment, for example, that Lord Caitanya looked too muscular, or that the gopis who were engaged in the rasa-lila looked too much like hippies. His meticulous care in presenting our philosophy through the use of art was another unique symptom of his unalloyed devotion to Krishna.

Art must follow philosophy, and one's creative ability should be expressed within the parameters accepted by our tradition. Because Chakra is not an official ISKCON publication, perhaps you are not limited by these traditions and choose instead to express your creativity more liberally. But there is a real danger in setting such a precedent. Your faulty line of reasoning is that if Locanananda Das cannot find an explicit prohibition, then your concept must be accepted as bona fide. Where does the sastra say that whatever is not explicitly prohibited is bona fide? If this continues, then your next trick may be to depict the acharya riding on the back of Garuda and then challenge me to find a verse that explicitly states that Lord Visnu's carrier never gives anyone else a ride.

My suggestion is that it is wiser to err on the side of caution. If there is the slightest possibility that your presentation of Srila Prabhupada standing on a lotus is a breach of etiquette or is tinged with impersonalism, it is certainly preferable to adjust your illustration. If there is any chance the innocent reader might conclude that it would be proper to glorify gurus in general in this unauthorized way, then it is wiser and safer to alter your picture of His Divine Grace. If the editors of Chakra want to be recognized as adherents of Vaisnava tradition, they should admit they committed a faux pas and then make the necessary changes. This is known as taking a clump of straw between one's teeth or, more colloquially, as eating humble pie—a very purifying experience.

If you find it necessary to respond to this letter, I hope you will include in your response the passages from sastra that describe an acharya standing on a lotus flower, since philosophy must precede art. Or, perhaps you have discovered a reasonable facsimile of your portrayal of a Vaisnava acharya in the archives of published artwork approved by Srila Prabhupada. Let us now see what kind of evidence you have come up with to argue your case. If you can conclusively show either a verse or a precedent in Vaisnava tradition to substantiate your argument, you would have proven your point and I will withdraw my objection with a full apology. If not, then please do the needful and make the required adjustment without further ado.

Begging your forgiveness for any offenses I may have committed, I remain faithfully

Your servant,

Locanananda Das

© CHAKRA 4-Dec-98

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